Betty Williams, Mairead Corrigan

Nobel Peace Prize 1976

Betty Williams


Peace must be built from below

In 1976, three innocent children were killed in a shooting incident in Belfast. The housewife and secretary Betty Williams witnessed the tragedy. She decided to launch an appeal against the meaningless use of violence in the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. Betty was joined by the dead children's aunt, Mairead Corrigan, and together they founded the peace organization the Community of Peace People.

Betty Williams had a Protestant father and Catholic mother, a family background from which she derived religious tolerance and a breadth of vision that motivated her to work for peace. Early in the 1970s she joined an anti-violence campaign headed by a Protestant priest, before she threw herself with full force into grass-root activities for the Peace People. By setting up local peace groups comprising former opponents who undertook confidence-building measures, they hoped to set a peace process in motion from below.

The Northern Irish peace movement disintegrated in the course of 1978. This was due both to internal disagreements and to the spreading of malicious rumors by Catholic and Protestant extremists.


Mairead Corrigan


Catholic and campaigner for peace

In August 1976, the Northern Irish secretary Mairead Corrigan's sister lost three children in a shooting incident in Belfast. She was promptly contacted by a witness, Betty Williams, and they agreed to found a peace organization to bring an end to the bitter conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

Mairead grew up in a poor family in Belfast. In addition to her office job, she devoted a great deal of time in her youth to charity work in the Catholic organization Legion of Mary. That gave her a good basis on which to develop the nonviolent strategy of the Community of Peace People, which brought together thousands of people in protest marches and confidence-building measures among the grass roots in 1976 and 1977.

Mairead Corrigan did not give up hope even when the Peace People lost nearly all their support in the late 1970s. She kept up her local peace work with admirable strength.